LumiLens: Netflix’s Death Note

Time to place this all out into words while it’s still in my head and before I try to completely distract myself with Longguo and Shihyun.

Death Note was one of the first lengthy animes I ever watched. Having been lightly exposed to darker forms of media like Law and Order or Sleepy Hollow as a child, I grew to truly enjoy any kind of entertainment that stimulated my thoughts and made me question, “What would I do in this situation?” Death Note was one of those series. I could rewatch it countless times and never grow tired of the plot, and, to this day, it remains my favorite series. The complexities behind it are what really make this anime famous.

So let’s strip away the complexities and lay out the Netflix rendition of Death Note – because that’s what it is – a rendition.

I was, of course, part of the angered crowd that was frustrated at the thought of there being no Asian American actors in this film. The news became a huge topic in the Asian community, although, if you have seen interviews of the Japanese community in Asia commenting on American casting, they actually have no problem with it. To them, the casting of an American actor with more European features is more accurate to the animation than casting an Asian actor. Keeping this in mind, I pushed aside my prejudice and kept an open mind until I heard more about the Netflix movie.

When the move revealing trailer was released, it suddenly became obvious that this was not the Death Note I had binge watched in the past. This was an American rendition of the concept of Death Note, applied to an American setting. This being said, there was no real reason to keep the same character name “Light” if this was a typical American boy.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

In comparison to the cookie cutter life that Light Yagami had in the original series, Light Turner comes from a broken family; his mother was killed and the perpetrator bought his way out of the indictment. Light Turner holds a heavy amount of anger towards the world, and, frankly, he has an obnoxious sense of justice that earns him a beating within the first five minutes of the movie. In no way is this character supposed to be Light Yagami who is a model student, a good role model to his little sister, and a boy highly sought after by the other girls his age and older.

From the first scenes, Light Turner already displays aggression towards his father, and exemplifies himself as an outcast who has a crush on a girl who’s popular with the athletes in the school. So why does she suddenly find him so attractive at the thought of the Death Note? The next half hour of the movie made me uncomfortable, to be honest. There were a lot of scenes of the two sexually bonding while finding names to write in the Death Note which is… disturbing on so many levels. They bonded over their mutual sense of justice – if you could call it that. It also became obvious that Light’s sense of guilt was higher than Mia’s, and also, what happened to the football player who put his arm around her in the first ten minutes of the movie? She abandoned her former clique for a recluse who just admitted he killed a man on live television?

Past Light, the other key character in the Death Note series is L – the prodigy detective who works privately with agencies all over the world. L is calm and seems to have a robotic-like mind that lacks empathy and sympathy which allows him to take on cases objectively. With L, his assistant and caretaker Watari stays by his side and is the “face” of L in his absence. L also uses a voice modulator to mask his voice – anything to keep his identity a secret.

Netflix’s L was on the same level of emotion as Light Turner. Initially, he acts the same way as anime L, the craving of sweets, the childish behavior, and he even displays an exceptional use of Japanese when speaking to Watari. Upon meeting Light Turner, L is automatically suspicious and aggressively so. This seems to be a pattern with these character renditions – they’re all significantly more emotional than the anime. The stoic persona of the characters in the anime is what added to the ominous air of Death Note. It made one character seem perfectly normal and rational and the other seem odd but very objective and “big picture.” These two were the perfect rivals because as you begin to think one has prevailed – the other makes you question the outcome.

Netflix L does not use a voice modulator, and in fact, he shows himself to Light – face and all – and openly accuses Light of being guilty in front of his father. The only thing missing was his name. After having a public spat with L, Light even uses the Death Note to find L’s true identity through Watari.

THIS WAS MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH THE MOVIE.

For those of you who are unaware, L is not a single name – it is passed down as each L dies. Each new L goes through extensive training to be as good if not better than the last. The same concept goes for Watari – this is not his real name. Watari’s real name in the anime is Quillish Wammy and is in fact the founder of the school for gifted children that trained L. So why was Light Turner able to use the mononym “Watari” to find L’s true identity? And if the L legacy is supposed to be passed down with time, why was the orphanage that Watari went to in search of L’s name run down and abandoned? Netflix L’s heavily emotional approach to this case especially after Watari’s death was a clear-cut example of why Mello from the Death Note anime was not chosen as the new L, Near taking his place instead.

In addition to these drastic changes in character personas, there was the addition of a new character – Mia, Light’s girlfriend who joined him after learning of the Death Note. Mia’s deceptive nature, to me, was not as obvious as it should have been. After declaring her love for Light, she puts his name in the Death Note which she will burn to save him only if he passes over the Death Note to her. To counteract this, Light puts a condition in the notebook that if he can convince her not to take the book from him, she will not die. Which… doesn’t make sense to me at all. Putting someone’s name in the Death Note doesn’t come under conditions – if the name is there, it’s there. There is no boolean statement in a Death Note. Again, I’m confused.

L using the Death Note to kill Light at the very end of the movie as well as his emotional display in front of the other officers was so out of character for how L should have been.

At this point, it has NOTHING to do with casting; this was all about plot structure and keeping to the concept of Death Note. This was clearly an adaptation as the story line was barely similar to the anime, but having said that, the names should have been different with the exception of L because he is an international detective. But, again, because of that, his persona should not have changed.

All in all, A for effort, Netflix, but even someone who knows nothing about Death Note would not be impressed by this movie. To me, it looked like two children going head to head in a game of wits without actually knowing what the definition of “wit” is.

1.5/5 stars from LumiScript. Would not recommend.

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